Aug 18 (Reuters) - Underdogs Europe won the last two Solheim Cup matches in the opening foursomes session to take a 2-1/2 to 1-1/2 lead over the United States on Friday in the biennial tournament at the Des Moines Golf & Country Club in Iowa.
Anna Nordqvist and rookie Georgia Hall comfortably beat Americans Paula Creamer and Austin Ernst 3&1, while the last-minute pairing of Karine Icher and Catriona Matthew edged Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller 1-up to give Europe an early advantage.
Rookie Danielle Kang and Lizette Salas beat Europe’s Carlota Ciganda and Caroline Masson 1-up, while Americans Cristie Kerr and Lexi Thompson halved the opening alternate-shot match against Team Europe’s Mel Reid and Charley Hull.
Four four-ball, or best-ball, matches were being contested in the afternoon in the electric atmosphere of the team event.
Following the late withdrawal of Suzann Pettersen with a bad back, only world number 13 Nordqvist ranks among the top 20 for Team Europe, while the U.S. have four players in number two Thompson, Kerr, Lewis and Kang in that category.
Rankings mattered little once the matches began though.
Nordqvist and Hall birdied to win the second hole and never trailed, closing out the match by winning the 16th and 17th.
“Georgia is a rookie but she certainly didn’t play like one,” said Nordqvist. “She played great.”
Matthew moved from vice-captain to playing member to replace Pettersen and with Icher registered an unlikely victory.
Lewis and Piller took a quick 2-up lead and maintained their cushion through 12 holes before Icher began rolling in big putts as Europe won holes 13, 14 and 16 to snatch the win.
“It was a tough game at the beginning; they gave nothing,” said Icher. “But the door opened on the 13th and 14th, and we took it. It’s a great feeling now.”
After Thompson hit her drive on the par-four first hole to six feet and Kerr rolled in the eagle putt, it looked grim for Europe against the top U.S. team, but Reid and Hull battled back to lead 2-up with two to play.
Kerr and Thompson then showed their grit, as a par on 17 and an impressive birdie on 18 enabled them to level the opening foursomes match.
Kang and Salas were cruising, 2-up at the turn and still 2-up with two to play, but required a clutch putt on the final hole from rookie Kang to secure Team USA’s win over Ciganda and Masson.
Afternoon Four-Ball pairings (Europe listed first)
Madelene Sagstrom & Jodi Ewart Shadoff vs Michelle Wie & Danielle Kang
Carlota Ciganda & Emily Pedersen vs Angel Yin & Lizette Salas
Florentyna Parker & Caroline Masson vs Brittany Lang & Brittany Lincicome
Charley Hull & Georgia Hall vs Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller (Reporting by Larry Fine in Tampa; Editing by Christian Radnedge)